Piranesi’s Prisons

June 29, 10

I get lots of questions about level design.  One of the strange and wonderful things about level design to me, is that it never stays put long enough for anyone to really understand it. 

Just as you begin to think that you understand something about total level design – it moves.  A new title does something that shifts what you thought you knew, and you believe that this shift must be taken into account in your very next level plan.

It mostly comes down to planning and tools integration. By “tools integration” I mean detailing enough of your level plan so that you know exactly WHAT your software level tool needs to be able to do in order to execute the design you’ve got planned. This is an ongoing process and collaboration.

But, backing up for just a moment, where do you start to think about how a level might be staged?

By “staged” I mean both how the architecture is used and/or positioned and how props will be used to detail the space. Years ago, I was visiting the Getty museum in Los Angeles to see a Pieter Saenredam exhibit on church interiors. In a side viewing hall were a few Giovanni Piranesi prints. I’d known a little bit about Piranesi, but had never seen his drawings in person.


He drew spectacular prisons. His drawings suggest all you’ll ever really need to know about use of space, materials, positioning, lighting, symmetry, alignment, layout, even puzzle suggestions among the rope, pulley and lattice systems! In short, the drawings are a living textbook on interiors. Piranesi is my vote for the best level concept artist of the 18th century (and I still love Saenredam too).

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